‘Thoughts and Prayers’

Politicians love sending ‘thoughts and prayers’ to people who are suffering.  But does it make any sense?  Frankly, no.

First, if thoughts don’t lead to acts, then they are not only pointless they are worthless.  Thoughts which are followed by deeds are thoroughly sensible but bare thoughts, alone, are the Eunuchs of intellectual life.  And as Kierkegaard reminded us Eunuchs may know what needs to be done, but they can’t ever manage to do it.

And second, the prayers of politicians (and most people, let’s just be honest with ourselves for a moment) are similarly useless.  Why?  Because God doesn’t hear the prayers of the godless-  We know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does His will, He hears him. (Jn. 9:31).  To be sure, the ‘fervent effectual prayer of a righteous person avails much’ (Epistle of James) but no one with any good sense at all would describe any American politician as ‘righteous’.  They are all corrupt, self seeking, evil.

So, thoughts and prayers?  Keep them to yourself.  They are useless when they come from the godless.

10 Potential 2020 Presidential Candidates

Well, it looks like putting Trump in the White House has opened the floodgates. With celebrities from Oprah to The Rock hinting at a presidential run, the 2020 race is shaping up to be a real hoot and a half.

We sent our reporters out to do reportery, investigationy stuff on who might be running in 2020, and here is what they drummed up. Follow these 10 celebrities’ careers closely—one of them just might end up in the White House!

Jerry Springer – Talk show hosts are all throwing their hats in the ring for the upcoming race—first with Oprah testing the waters, now, Jerry Springer. Springer represents controversy, trashiness, drama, and ugly domestic disputes—pretty much everything the nation already stands for! Springer should make a strong showing at the polls.

The Hanson brothers – The number one qualification the nation looks for in a president is a hit song released in the late ‘90s. Zac, Taylor, and Isaac have you covered there, with “MMMBop” topping the charts in 1997. With a strong showing in the indie music scene in the years since Middle of Nowhere, we expect the three Hanson brothers to announce their collective run any day now.

Mr. Peanut – What does the Oval Office need after a Trump presidency? Why, it needs some class of course, and who better to lend an air of sophistication than top-hat-wearing, anthropomorphic peanut Mr. Peanut? Peanut is currently putting the feelers out there for a 2020 run, according to sources close to the brand mascot.

Conor McGregor – The best training ground for running the world’s most prominent superpower is the octagon. Conor McGregor has been feeling out the possibility of a run, saying he’d “quite fancy a stay in that big White House for a tick.” Reminded that he is not a U.S. citizen, McGregor stated, “I’ll [expletive] kill ya, ya [expletive] [expletive] [expletive] [expletive] [expletive] boy.”

Beast Boy from Teen Titans Go! – Straightforward, persuasive, and in touch with the nation’s youth, everyone’s favorite green hero Beast Boy could make a splash in the 2020 election. Sources report that he has already cooked up a catchy campaign slogan: “I wants to be the president, yo!”

The nation’s collective sense of existential dread – This one’s comin’ in hot! The smart money for the 2020 race is the nation’s collective sense of existential dread, which is sure to sweep everyone up in a wave of populism and kick Trump out of the White House.

Ronald Reagan – A nation of disillusioned Republicans is looking for a candidate who represents the conservative policies the party allegedly stands for. Who better than the reanimated corpse of Ronald Reagan, resurrected by dark magic developed by the CIA under the Bush administration? He has our vote, Iran-Contra scandal or no!

Joel Osteen – We’re not 100% sure Osteen’s going to run as a presidential candidate, but it’s a sure bet he’ll be the VP candidate on Oprah Winfrey’s ticket. With both Winfrey and Osteen espousing positive thinking, the law of attraction, and a relativistic, inclusivist view of God, they’re the perfect match for each other.

Admiral Adama from Battlestar Galactica – The nation needs a strong leader in these tumultuous times on the world stage. The world needs Bill Adama. Say it with us: so say we all!

That old lady Mrs. Morgan who ranted about killing drummers on that weird filler track on Jesus Freak – Mrs. Morgan showed she was strong and intimidating, and that she wouldn’t take no crap from anybody when she famously declared, “If he hits the drum one more time, he’s gonna be a dead drummer!” Who better to put hostile foreign powers in their place than Mrs. Morgan?

There you have it!

Which one are you voting for? Who did we forget? Be sure to let us know in the comments section of another website.

Whoever America elects you can be sure of one thing, they won’t be a practicing Christian.

«Gottes kräftiger Anspruch» : Die Barmer Theologische Erklärung als reformierter Schlüsseltext

Die sechs Thesen der Barmer Theologischen Erklärung von 1934 gehören zum protestantischen Traditionsgut. Aber wie vital sind sie eigentlich? Die Autorinnen und Autoren dieses Bandes konzentrieren sich auf das reformierte Profil der Barmer Thesen. Was heisst es heute, dass Jesus Christus das eine Wort Gottes ist? Was, ihn als «Gottes kräftigen Anspruch» auf unser ganzes Leben zu bekennen? Warum fehlen die Juden in diesem Text und mit welchen Folgen? Welchen Beitrag leisten die Thesen zur politischen Ethik? Die weltweite Rezeption der Barmer Theologischen Erklärung kommt ebenso zur Sprache wie die brisante Frage, ob und mit welchem Anspruch heute noch bestimmte Glaubenspositionen verworfen werden können. Alle Aspekte kreisen um die zentrale Frage: Warum sollen wir heute «Barmen» noch lesen, diskutieren, bekennen?

TVZ sent a review copy.  More anon.

Disability and Youth Ministry Conference

In theology and ministry with young people, disability is often treated as a problem to be solved. Christian leaders approach people with disabilities as a target audience in need of integration into traditional church programming, rather than as full-fledged members of Christian community. But what would happen if the Church were to invest in and affirm young people with disabilities as active members of the body of Christ? How might the Church be reformed and reshaped by God’s work in young people with disabilities? Join the Institute for Youth Ministry for this 2-day event where we will engage both scholars and practitioners, striving to create an interdisciplinary conversation that makes a difference in a world of difference.

Etc.

The Tensions Which Eventually Led to the Second Kappel War

At a general diet which met at Baden, January 8, 1531, the Five [Catholic] Cantons declared that unless justice was done them with respect to the Abbey of St. Gall [which had been seized by the Reformed and sold, the proceeds going to help the poor], they would not appear again in diet.

Threats and insults were freely exchanged, although the use of abusive language was expressly forbidden by the treaty. “Thief,” “murderer,” and “arch-heretic,” were some of the epithets applied to Zwingli. But the Five [Catholic] Cantons did not content themselves with the mere use of invective. A vigorous persecution was raised against the poor people among them who loved the Word of God [i.e., the Reformed]. They were fined, imprisoned, cruelly tormented, and expelled from their homes.

Secret councils were held and threats of war were heard on every side. The evangelical cities, greatly alarmed by these warlike manifestations, assembled in diet at Basel, February, 1531, and again at Zurich in March. At the former of these meetings, the deputies of Zurich presented a long list of grievances alleged to have been suffered by them at the hands of the Five Cantons. “What can we do,” inquired they, “to punish these base calumnies, and disarm our enemies?” “We understand,” said Bern, “that you would resort to violence, but we bid you reflect that the Five Cantons are forming secret alliances with the Pope, the Emperor, and the King of France. Think also of the many innocent and pious people in the Five Cantons who would suffer in case of war. Think how easy it is to begin a war, but how hard to predict how it will end. Let us rather send a deputation to the Five Cantons requesting the punishment, according to treaty, of those who have circulated these infamous slanders. Should they refuse to do this, let us break off all intercourse with them.”

“Such a mission would be useless,” said the deputies of Basel, “let us rather summon a general diet.” This proposal won general assent, and the diet was accordingly convoked at Baden on the 10th of April.*

The gathering clouds of war would eventually burst in a great tempest in October, 1531, after 10 months of terrible tension between the Catholic Cantons and those which adhered to the Reformed views of Zwingli. And it all started with a squabble over property… and faith…

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*Samuel Simpson, Life of Ulrich Zwingli: The Swiss Patriot and Reformer (New York: Baker & Taylor Co., 1902), 245–247.

Calvin’s Chief Contribution to the Church Was as a Commentator

I think this is absolutely on target-

It was as a Commentator that Calvin reigned supreme in his day, and, for that matter survives to-day. Beginning with his work on Romans while in Strassburg, in 1540, he continued until the year of his death in Geneva, with his work on Joshua. A more extensive series, and one more clear and marked with spiritual insight, and more modern in method, was not produced by the age of the Reformation. Next to the Institutes and to the work of the Academy, Calvin’s Commentaries rank for influence in the spread of his ideas throughout Europe and America.*

Commentaries for the Church- that’s where the real work is done.  I truly believe that.

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*Richard Taylor Stevenson, John Calvin: The Statesman (Cincinnati; new York: Jennings and Graham; Eaton and Mains, 1907), 171.

A Classic From the Vault: Helmut Koester on Hector Avalos

This nifty piece ran a few years back and since it has been a slow news day I thought I would do what others have done and post a ‘classic’. And this one is.  That’s for sure.

BAR Most Loved and Most Reviled

koesterPerhaps I should not be surprised that a scholar who has advocated a Biblical nihilism and has recommended that Biblical studies should be “tasked with eliminating completely the influence of the Bible in the modern world” would launch an attack on the discipline of Biblical archaeology and on a magazine that is Biblical archaeology’s most important outlet.

In the May/June “First Person” column by Professor Hector Avalos, as well as his book from which this column is taken, Professor Avalos criticizes not only the policies of *BAR* and its editor, he also questions the legitimate existence of the entire complex of Jewish and Christian religion in the United States, its Biblical base and its relationship to the academic discipline of Biblical studies, to wit, the Society of Biblical Literature—a formidable task indeed! What would be required for such an endeavor, however, is knowledge of the realities of American religious life and Biblical scholarship in general, as well as of the details of controversial issues in present debates. Unfortunately, Professor Avalos reveals a deep ignorance in both respects.

The reality is that both Judaism and Christianity depend upon the Bible. The Bible is their book of law and morality, their source of inspiration and worship, of consolation in sorrow and of festive celebration. The suggestion that the modern world does not need this book at the same time recommends the complete elimination of these Bible-based religions. This is not only preposterous, but it reveals a complete lack of understanding of what Professor Avalos calls “the modern world.” His “modern world” is a fiction in his mind that has no relationship to reality.

As for *BAR *, Professor Avalos off-handedly characterizes it as a journal that “has served Biblical education well in some cases and badly in others” creates the impression that about half of its content belongs to the latter category. He then proceeds to draw a caricature of some of its articles as if this were the kind of thing to which *BAR* was mostly committed. This is far from the truth.

Most of its articles are well-reasoned and well-documented presentations of good scholarship. To be sure, some are controversial—scholars disagree on interpretations of archaeological as well as literary materials—but that is the normal business of scholarship. Does Professor Avalos, claiming to be a scholar, not know that?

In fact the more controversial articles and opinions have served a very important purpose. The albeit-illegal publication of unpublished material from the Dead Sea Scrolls broke a deadlock that many had unsuccessfully tried to do for many years.

It was during the year of my presidency of the Society of Biblical Literature that the society accepted a free-access policy, which had successfully been applied in the process of the publication of the Nag Hammadi Codices (first: publication of a facsimile; second: publication of a preliminary translation; third: critical editions of all documents). But we were never been able to convince scholars involved in the publication of the scrolls to follow the same procedure. Thanks to *BAR*’s bold move to publish some unpublished texts, the deadlock was finally broken. Professor Avalos recognizes this; but is this part of *BAR*’s scandalous behavior?

Then there is the accusation that *BAR* is biased because it calls Professor Frank Cross a friend of Israel and the late Professor John Strugnell an anti-Semite, both Harvard colleagues of mine. This is not bias; it is a statement of a fact. I have known for decades that John Strugnell believed in Christian supersessionism.

Moreover, *BAR *’s seemingly offensive comments about Elisha Qimron are justified in many ways.  That Hershel Shanks has been found guilty by an Israeli court of violating Qimron’s copyright in the translation does not make him a criminal but rather a saint—if there is something like that in Judaism! Qimron has never revealed that the translation of the controversial Dead Sea Scroll known as MMT  was primarily the work of John Strugnell, who never got due recognition for his work.

Professor Avalos also cites as  *BAR *’s “competitive nature” Hershel Shanks’s criticism of the National Geographic’s publication of the Gospel of Judas.  On the contrary, he should have congratulated *BAR* for this critique! The publication of this document by the National Geographic was a scandal. The scholar entrusted with the translation, Marvin Meyer, violated the free-access statement of the scholarly society [the Society of Biblical Literature], of which he is a member. To his detriment, numerous major mistakes in his translation have now been discovered.

This could have been avoided if Marvin Meyer or whoever would be entrusted with its publication had allowed fellow scholars in the field of Coptic studies to discuss this Coptic text before the appearance of the first English translation. What Hershel Shanks wrote, calling attention to the scandal of National Geographic’s publication of this text, was exactly right and has been confirmed by subsequent scholarly investigations.

I shall refrain from setting the record straight on other examples of Professor Avalos’s caricature of *BAR *. More important is a consideration of the fundamental and important role that *BAR * has been playing in the concert of Bible and archaeology. There was once another popular journal, /Biblical Archaeologist/, founded by my former Harvard colleague and prominent archaeologist G. Ernest Wright. In its first years, *BAR * competed with this journal. The American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR), under whose auspices it was published, however, decided to change the name of this publication to /Near Eastern Archaeologist/, since it seemed to the leaders of this society that the name “Biblical” was odious (Professor Avalos evidently agrees with that judgment!). This was done by ASOR after the vast majority of the subscribers rejected such a change of the title. The result was that subscribers interested in the Bible (including me) discontinued their subscription. This makes *BAR * and Hershel Shanks’s Biblical Archaeology Society the only player in the field. Courageously this magazine alone holds up the torch of a scholarly outlet in this important area, although the very name “Biblical” combined with the world of a scholarly discipline—including archaeology—seems to be deplorable for Professor Avalos as well as the leaders of ASOR, who have largely abandoned their responsibility of a publication with an appeal to the general public in this field of study.

It is exactly here that Professor Avalos’s lack of understanding of the realities of Biblical scholarship is most evident. He apparently is unable to see this reality: The relationship of American religious life, Bible and scholarship is a vital and undeniable factor in our society—especially in the United States—however controversial.

Helmut Koester
Former SBL President
Professor Emeritus
Harvard Divinity School
Cambridge, Massachusetts